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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Only Thing the RPGPundit has to say About the Latest GoT Episode

You know, I'd heard there was some controversy about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, but really you'd think that show would generate nothing but controversy.  In any case, this is my one and only statement related to last weekend's episode:

"Squirming my Way to Freedom" should be the name of Tyrion Lannister's Autobiography!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H's Beverwyck

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

DCC Campaign Update

In today's surreal adventure, the player characters were confronted by:

-Highly confused zero-level characters.

-A "curiosity shop" that actually had useful things.  Like curious wands that leave you wondering what they do.

-One of those useful things actually being a plexiglass screen that could be fitted into the modified back of a Pythian Battle Armor to accommodate extra mutant eyes.

-Angry old-family would-be kidnappers.

-"Crazy Leper Jim"

-A guy begging for 'magic items for the poor' might turn out to be a useful hireling with 7 years of interpretive-dance training.

-Rumors of mad wizards turning halflings into goats (with halfling-faces).

-Confirmation of said rumours.

-On the other hand, the crazy leper with 7 years of interpretive dance training might just be the mad wizard they were looking for, in disguise.

-Nicodemus actually being a working-class mad archmage named Nikos.

-Said Nikos being Bugfuck Crazy.

-A stirring condemnation of their own moral failings as adventurers.

-Chicken-headed elves.

-0-level versions of the Human Torch.


-Doctor Ironbutt.

-The smelliest hashish-dealer in the world.

-The sewers of Arkhome, yet again.

-Clinically-depressed Sewer Giants.

-The "hand-people" being literally people with hands for heads. And flamethrowers; just because.\

-The troubling possibility of a Hand-people/ Frog-cult alliance.

-The Sewer-Freak Tribe.

-The fact that you can have up to three patrons, and screw them all over, if you're both very lucky and very powerful; but even then, you'll probably end up batshit crazy as your best case scenario.

-The Twice-confirmed realization that walking through a Sequester-trap is not a good idea under any circumstances.

-The reality that using up personality points as a dump stat can have really serious consequences.

-The tragic death of Ted, scarring Bill forever.

-The mad wizard Nikos' big lesson being: that he's an asshole.

-Heroism and morality, as adventurers, not being all its cracked up to be.

-The Eco-Ogre Army is coming.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell deluxe + Image Latakia

Monday, 21 April 2014

UnCracked Monday: The Problem With Captain America

For today, I present you an interesting article by a young writer, who makes a surprisingly principled (surprising because these days principles are rare in general) defense of Captain America being a "Good" guy, in response to arguments that it would be more "interesting" for him to be a troubled anti-hero (in the style of the version of his character from Ultimates).

She gets it right in all the generalities, and seems to figure out that there's something quite troubling to her about how many people cannot accept the idea of Captain America being "nice" and not "a jerk". The part she misses is the deeper social crisis it represents: the fact that we live in a world where, as she pointed out "goodness and morality are now (seen as signs of) perfection".  

The problem is its not just perfection. Having principles, having an ethical code, is in our relativist society immediately associated with trying to illegitimately usurp some kind of position of superiority.  In a society obsessed with "equality" (not just of opportunity or of fundamental nature, not a society that believes in the equality of giving everybody an equal chance, or raising everyone up to the same rights and duties, but an "equality of outcomes" that demands that no one can be allowed to do better than anyone else, no one can be allowed to learn more or outperform.. or even be more principled), to have a code and believe that something is right and wrong suggests that you are trying to somehow set yourself above others. So people who have bought into this dominant paradigm of our society refuse to accept that Captain America could be heroic and moral without also being either a prejudiced asshole (in spite of Cap always having been about believing in the fundamental worth and rights of every human being, it was, for example, the first mainstream comic in history to feature an openly gay character portrayed positively as one of Cap/Steve Roger's closest friends), or a fascist out to control/oppress others (even though individualism has always been a key component of Cap's morality), or some kind of disturbed individual.  Or they'll argue that he's "not realistic", even though Cap's unwavering morality has also always been presented as complex process for him that he struggles to apply and uphold in a world full of challenges to that moral code; Captain America would be the last person to call himself "perfect".

Sadly, the reason they find it so unrealistic, I suspect, is because for most of these critics its inconceivable to imagine people like this in real life. Standing that firmly for a code, for an idea, that you are willing to put down your life for it, is a concept that has driven our civilizational progress since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks, but has gone so out of fashion in Western Civilization that for many it may seem a myth.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Richard Dawkins is the John Snow of Religious Studies

That is to say, he knows nothing.  It doesn't matter how smart he is in biology (and whether he is or not is not for me to say, not being an expert on that subject), he and most of the new-atheists are absolute ignoramuses at religious studies.

Case in point: for Easter, the Richard Dawkins Foundation pushed around this meme, pointing out the alleged origin of the word Easter:

I'll not that I'm not absolutely sure whether the Richard Dawkins Foundation ("Official") has anything to do with Dawkins directly, and I certainly doubt he wrote this caption himself; but this is an example of an endemic problem the man himself has engaged with: he doesn't actually know anything about religious studies yet is quite willing to spout off any old bullshit he hears. I've read him do it over and over again in articles, and in videos.  When he talks about science, he is (or at least, appears to my layman's eyes and ears to be) rigorous and demand rigorousness from his opponents; in fact, that's one his chief damning criticisms of them.  But when he's dealing with religion, history, and other humanities, anything goes.  As if history wasn't a discipline. As if the study of religion was something anyone could do; or rather, no one really needs to do.  Its all so stupid, right? So why should we have to fucking know anything to criticize it?

Now, here's the thing:  "Easter" is not called "Easter" in Latin, or any of the romance languages (as far as I know). It is called "Easter" in English, from the time of the Saxons; which seems very strange if it made a jump of thousands of years after the ancient goddess Ishtar stopped being worshiped in that form (and thousands of miles away from where she was ever worshiped), and at least hundreds of years after the Latin church started practicing the festival of Christ's supposed resurrection, which they called Pascha (where the Spanish "Pascuas" comes from; both coming from the Hebrew term Pesach).

There's no question that the christian Easter rites borrowed from pagan rites, but that still doesn't excuse repeating something that just isn't factually true (the supposed Ishtar-Easter connection). This just shows off how little certain critics actually know, and it ends up giving all criticism a bad reputation as fanatical and not fact-based.

There is indeed a potential connection: Eostre (Saxon) comes from Ostara (old Germanic) which may derive, from great distance, from Astarte which was another name for Ishtar.
All of these (and many other feminine deities, like Inanna or Babalon) are a type of love-goddess sometimes described by the archetype of "The Red Goddess".

And yet the fact that there is such a connection, but the Dawkins foundation gets their facts wrong anyways through bad scholarship and bad reasoning, is only more ironic and more disappointing.

New atheism is very stupid at these things. And the problem is that they are mimicking (as usual) the same errors that the religious set make in the opposite direction: that idea I expressed above: if its stupid, then why do I need to actually know anything to mock it?  "I can just engage in sloppy thinking and get away with it because it isn't something serious like Science/The Bible" (take your pick).
By engaging with that mentality toward the humanities, all of New Atheism is committing the exact same error that the anti-evolutionist and Creationist fanatics they so hate do to them.

The New Atheists would be outraged if some Creationist were to make some ridiculous claim about the hummingbird because he hasn't actually studied biology; but they feel completely free to say whatever they like about religious studies because they just assume you don't actually have to know anything about these things.
They don't know their Ishtar from their Eostre, their Dhammapada from their Mahabharata, their Augustine from their Duns Scotus.  Things that are complex they want to reduce to schoolboy taunts, but it leaves them looking like schoolboy-level thinkers.  To anyone who actually knows anything, they come across looking like idiots. 

Belief may be a simplistic matter of faith or doubt; but religious history, religious philosophy, and religious sociology are not. They are complex.  And when it comes to being capable of engaging in debate that doesn't seem infantile, the supposed luminaries of the new-atheist movement seem utterly unarmed.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Saturday, 19 April 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Pyramid of the Dragon

This is a review of “Pyramid of the Dragon” an adventure module, ostensibly for Labyrinth Lord (but really usable for any D&D-variant), intended to be played by 4-6 characters of levels 5-7.  Its written by Peter Spahn, published by Small Niche Games.  This is a 28 page softcover (I am, as always, reviewing the print edition), with a colour cover featuring a nice illustration of two dragons fighting each other, and black and white interiors. Being relatively no-thrills, its only interior illustrations are regional and “dungeon” (actually pyramid) maps.

Now, as always with modules I want to be kind of careful of what I talk about: I don’t want to give away any “spoilers” that could mess up a group’s fun.  On the other hand, I want to be detailed enough that people will get what’s good or bad about the adventure.  In the case of Pyramid of the Dragon, I’d say this adventure is fairly good, containing both tried-and-true elements and some things that are a bit unusual.  I don’t think its quite as great as “blood moon rising” (the other Spahn module I reviewed) but its still well worth looking at.

In terms of placing, the adventure is very much generic enough that you could easily place it in any standard fantasy world; the adventure starts out “in media res” so its set up that it can work as though the start of the adventure appears as if it were a random encounter while on the road in an area called the “border hills” (replace with hills of your choice, obviously).

The picture on the cover is not just some kind of unrelated show-piece; rather, this adventure actually starts (and because that’s the start I think its safe from spoilers) with the PCs witnessing a fight between two dragons (a pretty impressive beginning, in my book).  There’s a slightly scripted part in this, though even there the author allows for options (for example, the PCs madly insisting on participating in the fight), but from this point the adventure evolves into a kind of semi-sandbox.  Great pains are taken to making the choices as open as possible; rather than just railroading the PCs from one place to another. The overall content of the adventure can be broadly divided into three parts: the fight with the dragon and its aftermath, a trip to find a ruined elemental temple occupied by degenerate frog-men (that alone already made me like this adventure that little bit extra!), and then a third part involving the hunt for an extremely powerful artifact.

Both the overland and “dungeon” parts of this adventure are fairly good; the content rewards careful rather than reckless play on the part of PCs. The temple, while far from the most exciting dungeon I’d ever witnessed is good for some solid adventuring.  Having run this adventure in a highly-modified fashion for my Albion game, I can say that its not impossible to complete the whole thing in a single session, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have completed it in no more than three sessions unless the players are really dragging their feet or something weird is going on. The adventure includes stats for a few new magic items and monsters (and a couple of spells that are potentially new to Labyrinth Lord, apparently, even though they have actually been around for a long time elsewhere).

I can say that this adventure has a lot of the typical Spahn attention-to-detail, and would certainly provide a nice break from more standard dungeon-crawling fare for anyone running an old-school game. Quite a solid product, as far as adventures go.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Pipe of the Year + Argento Latakia

(originally posted March 5, 2013; on the old blog)

Friday, 18 April 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's and Investigator's Guides (part 2)

(note that this is the second part of the review of these two books; the earlier part, focused on the Investigator's book as this one does with the Keeper's, was presented in yesterday's blog entry and can also be found at this location on theRPGsite's reviews subforum)

The "Achtung! Cthulhu" Keeper's Guide begins with lengthy "Secret Chronologies" (i.e., of weird stuff) of the war in general and of the history of Nazi Germany.  These are mostly though not exclusively real-world weird events.  This section also contains an essay by Kenneth Hite advising GMs that they should avoid depicting the Nazis as "inhuman" and certainly avoid a campaign which suggests that the Nazi's evil was secretly caused by Mythos forces that were "behind it all" (as this, in essence, lets the monstrosity of the Nazis off the hook; as suddenly it wouldn't be their fault, but the fault of supernatural inhuman forces).  That's good and probably necessary advice for a lot of people to hear.

A section on the military follows, which provides unit and rank structures for the German forces, and some rules and guidelines for the allied war machine, including rules for things like obtaining supplies and handling injuries, and guidelines for how things like prisoners of war were handled. Statblocks are given (for both systems) for standard opponents: German infantry, officers, panzergrenadier, combat engineers, snipers, parachute veterans, mountain troops, German commandos, waffen-SS, and the Einsatzgruppe death squads.  Stats are also provided for different classes of US, UK, and French (both standard army and Free French veteran) soldiers.
Then there's a chapter on Intelligence, with significant details on the various MI branches of British Intelligence, the departments in charge of making secret weapons, the SOE, the PWE (the propaganda branch), and the LCS.  There's also details on the American OSS, Naval Intelligence, and FBI; and the Canadian "Camp X" and Hydra.  There's also details on the intelligence operations of French Resistance forces.  On the other side, there's information on the various intelligence branches of the Germans: the Abwehr (which in fact, under its director Wilhelm Canaris - who was personally responsible for saving the lives of several of my family members - secretly worked with the allied intelligence forces against the Nazi state trying to undermine it), the SD, and the Gestapo.

We then get to the chapter on Secret and Occult societies. Here we get into a seriously large section (50 pages of the book) on a variety of groups that are a mix of historical occult fact infused with Mythos-based fantasy.  There's real groups, some invented groups, and a couple that may or may not have been real.  A few significant figures in real occultism are mentioned, such as the incredible British magician Dion Fortune, or the fairly despicable German "volkish" magician Jorg Lanz "von" (in quotes because his claim to aristocracy was patently false) Liebenfels.  Fortune was the head of a real-life secret order called the Fraternity of the Inner Light who worked magically in real history to try to oppose the Nazi regime (in the game, they are active in the dreamlands under the guidance of the Elder Gods).  Liebenfels was the head of the influential but ultimately suppressed (in favor of even more overtly nazi groups) "Ordo Novi Templi", who had a huge influence in the esoteric details of the Nazi regime. 

Curiously, there are some very big names that are missing.  The authors chose to almost completely ignore Fortune's mentor Aleister Crowley, the biggest name in Occultism in the world at that time; who, although already an old man (but he would outlive both the war and Fortune) was tapped by his friend and contact Ian Fleming (also not mentioned in the book) to provide some occult intelligence in the early stages of the war, and was the inventor of the "V for Victory" sign (the Investigator's guide does have a brief sidebar box on the V sign and its creator, but that's the only mention they make of Crowley in either book, as far as I could find).  And there's no mention at all (again, unless I missed it) of Jack Parsons, the young and dashing millionaire playboy inventor who was Crowley's protege in America, working with the American branch of Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis, and at the same time one of the head scientists of none other than the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he developed jet fuel and the rocket fuel that would eventually put man on the moon.  He was also involved (at exactly the same time) in sex-magic rites and desert invocations of great goddesses.  One would think that a guy who was a rock star of occultism in that period, and a very important scientist of the American war effort, would have been worth at least a mention. These omissions led me to wonder if whoever wrote this section for Achtung didn't have some kind of anti-Crowley bias going on.

In any case, there are several other historical, quasi-historical and pseudo-historical individuals and groups detailed in this lengthy chapters, ranging from the relatively serious, to the wacky, to groups like "Section M" and "Majestic" which are clearly set up to be organizations that justify the formation and patronage of a PC party.  These two are given a considerable amount of detail compared to some other groups, but wisely the most information and detail is given to the antagonist group the Nazi "Cult of the Black Sun" which are a magnificent mix of pure race-supremacist evil, theosophical bullshit about Atlantis and the Hyperborean age, the real-life Thule Society, and the Mythos.  The Black Sun was not a real occult group, but it is clearly based on a number of Nazi occult streams and movements, and from their inspirations (the 'black sun' symbol was a real symbol of the SS, and its ideas came from racialist-occult theories about the "Aryan Race", the "Vril-force" and ancient atlantis).

This is where we get to the most Mythos-laden area of the setting to date; and it makes clear that the Nazis, though not run by the Mythos, are clearly dabbling with it to a level far beyond the allies, who have nowhere near the equivalent magical resources.  Its true that historically, the Nazis were always far more interested in the Occult than the allied powers, but that didn't necessarily make them better at it.  Of course, in a Cthulhu game, magic usually equals "horrific things Man Was Not Meant to Know", so the setting is obliged to present the allies at the occult underdogs.  There's nothing really wrong with that from a game perspective, since it puts the PCs in the position of heroes facing very challenging odds.

The major (villainous) heads of the Black Sun are statted out for the keeper, as well as statblocks for the Black Sun foot soldiers and special forces. And of course, their twisted Cthuloid monstrosities.

There's also another group, the Nachtwolfe, who are the "Weird Mythos Science" group in place of the Black Sun's "Weird Mythos Sorcery" group.  They have access to dangerous remnants of inhuman "atlantean" technology.  Here at last we get some weird tech stuff that's almost the kind of "pulp" stuff I had in mind, except of course that most of it is tainted and dangerous.  Again, statblocks are provided for major players and common archetypes within the organization.

The next chapter slips back into normality, with rules on travel by air, train and ships, crossing borders during wartime, smuggling, and details on military vehicles of all sides (including tanks, trucks, planes, ships, and subs).  Stats are given for vehicles in both systems.

There's also stats for German weaponry (allied weaponry being presented in the Investigator's book).  We dip back into the esoteric with some special Mythos-powered weapons and equipment for the Black Sun and Nachtwolfe groups, and then after that there are rules and guidelines for creating your own custom weapons and vehicles.

The next chapter deals with CoC mechanics handling various combat situations, things like dogfights, fighting with tanks, artillery, mines, and bombings, naval conflicts, random encounters (table provided) during large-scale battles, rules guiding being in command of units, and sanity loss for the (non-mythos) horrors of war.  The following chapter is pretty much the same, only for Savage Worlds.

The section on Artefacts and Tomes is for both rule systems, and details some new full-blown mythos artifacts, again mostly stuff in Nazi hands.  There are descriptions of several Mythos tomes; some already well known to CoC players.  The latter are only given descriptions and Savage World rules, while the new tomes (or altered ones) are given stats for both systems.  Among the latter there are the grimoires "Cult of the Idisi", the "Hanseatic Codex", "Culte Des Femmes Guerrieres Du Nord", "Merseburg Incantations", "De Origine Et Situ Germanorum" (written by Tacitus), the "Codex Aesinas", and "The Complete Works of Tacitus".
This is followed up with rules for how to use Mythos Knowledge in Savage Worlds, modifying the existing SW magic rules to fit the mythos, and listing some of the best-known CoC spells to SW rules.  There are a few new spells as well, which have stats for both systems.

Then we have a list of the (more common) Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos, with some explanations. Savage Worlds rules follow for stats of the most common Mythos creatures (byakhee, Dark Young, Deep ones, Elder Things, Fire Vampires, Flying Polyps, Nightgaunts, Shoggoth, etc.).  Its quite a few pages of material that is neither new nor useful to CoC fans.  There are also some new monsters that get double-stats:  Bloodborn, Cold Ones, Cultists of the Old Ones, Die Draugar, Die Gefallenen (nazi zombies), Ldendorff's Golem, Manneskin, Augmented Mi-Go, and Servitors of Nyarlathotep.

The "allies and nemeses" section details information about a number of important major figures, including Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover, Patton, FDR, Churchill, Dr. Hugh Dalton, Sir Hugh Dowding, Lord Mountbatten, Daladier, De Gaulle, Max Moulin, Petain, Paul Reynaud, Wilhelm Canaris, Goring, Goebbels, Hess, Himmler, and Hitler. 
None of the above are given stats, but the chapter also contains descriptions and stats for typical NPCs of a variety of backgrounds: an air raid warden, a woman's auxiliary volunteer, a home guard volunteer, a local squire, police constable, postmistress, lifeboat volunteer, CID detective, black marketeer, war correspondent, French gendarme, partisan, refugee, resistance fighter, collaborator, Hitler youth, gestapo agent, ordnungspolizei, U.S. factor worker, gangster, G-man, and private eye. 
There's also some descriptions of sample locations: airfields, army base, boatyards, country house, farm, hospital, industrial town, research facility, university, and village.
This chapter is what I'd term "moderately useful"; I could see some of this material as being potentially usable, but at the same time a great deal of it probably didn't need to be either described or statted out.  The information about the really major figures in the war are reachable by a Google search (indeed, any of their Wikipedia entries would garner far more information); the sample NPC stats would only very occasionally serve any real purpose, and the location descriptions are largely self-explanatory.  There's a lot of pages (20 in total) taken up in this chapter for the actual value contained.

The final full chapter contains 10 adventure seeds, each relatively short (a few paragraphs) and not exactly complete but enough for a Keeper to build something decent out of.  They run the gamut of scenarios that make good use of the default setting and material.  I won't go into detail about them to avoid spoilers but they form the basis of a good start for a campaign (or several good starts, rather, as they represent a few different orientations for a campaign; it highlights effectively that the Achtung setting can be used in several different ways, depending on whether you're focusing on military, intelligence, the home front, or insurgency).

Finally, the book closes with a quick reference guide for where to find rules in either system (referencing pages in either CoC 6e, or SW, and the appropriate pages in the Acthung Cthulhu books).  There are also bullet-point summaries of some of the new rule or mechanic ideas. Then there's a long list of suggested reading, and an even longer list of Patron's names from the kickstarter.

So what can we conclude about both the Keeper's Guide and the "Achtung! Cthulhu" setting in general? 
The great part of these books are that they are visually stunning, quite detailed, and yet accessible to the reader and well laid out for actual use.  They provide all you need to at least start a fairly focused WWII-era campaign. 

You may not like this setting if you are hoping for a super-pulpy, or super-gonzo type of campaign.  This is Cthulhu in the classic sense, it is not a setting where the Mythos is at all played for laughs or taken lightly.  This is a game setting where the mythos is deadly serious, and where the PCs are not the kind of heroic pulp figures expected to walk away unscathed, or indeed to even walk away, from the supernatural horrors they might confront.  It is a darker game than the somewhat campy-sounding title or the notion itself might imply, particularly these days where it seems that the Mythos gets ever-more watered down into something campy.

Finally, I'll note that while a great deal of attention to historical and military detail is provided, the level of attention to detail for historical occultism, and its various opportunities, seems somewhat scatter-shot and incomplete, with at least a few glaring omissions (like Crowley and Parsons).

On the whole, however, a very impressive, and very beautiful project, well worth checking into.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday, 17 April 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator and Keeper's Guides (part 1)

This is a review of the two main handbooks for the "Achtung! Cthulhu" game, which is not a stand-alone RPG, but rather a very complete and detailed setting for playing Cthulhu mythos adventures during World War II.  These books thus require a system to play in; and the books are set up to support play with either Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, or Savage Worlds.  They are written by Chris Birch et al., and published by Modiphius Entertainment.

The first thing that struck me about these books was just how impressive the production quality is.  Both are hardcover (the investigator's guide being about 145 pages long, the keeper's guide about 290).  Both have astounding covers, full colour interior with very impressive art, excellent layout, excellent maps of wartime Europe on the inside covers (front and back of the Investigator's guide - my only caveat being they could have put something else on the back- while the keeper's guide has a "secret europe" map on the front, and an advertisement on the back); and both books feature an attached bookmark-ribbon.  I'm a sucker for those; including them almost always scores you an extra point in the ratings!

Then we get to the content itself.  As it turns out, I personally ended up finding the books less fantastically useful at first reading then I had hoped.  But I realized that perhaps I was not really the target audience for these books, for several reasons.

First, I was expecting the setting on the whole to be very Pulpy.  I expected "Achtung! Cthulhu" to be all about out-there near-gonzo pulp heroes fighting Nazi Deep Ones with lots of 40s-super-tech and arcane mysteries.  If that's what you are hoping for, you will not really find Achtung to be satisfying; that's not what it's designed to do.   On the other hand, if you are hoping for a very detailed complete setting guide for running Call of Cthulhu in the way CoC is normally run (i.e., investigators who are not pulpy super-guys, going around looking into dark and dangerous things in a historical setting with great attention to detail) that will be what you'll be getting here.  Heroes in "Achtung! Cthulhu" are somewhere in between the weakling hapless-academics of a typical 1920s Cthulhu campaign and the super-trained experts of a Delta Green campaign.  They are already tough people (but totally within the boundaries of a "realistic" level of personal training and power) because they are already in the middle of the worst war history has known to date.  But they won't be flying rocket-jetpacks or dressing in flashy costumes with domino masks.  The style is a lot less "Inglorious Bastards" or "Indiana Jones" and much more "Saving Private Ryan" or "Valkyrie".

Second, I found that a lot of the material wasn't directly Cthulhu-related, but related to the historical emulation of the Second World War.  My first reaction to this was "I already know all this stuff"!  However, again, I'm not a standard case, and the information on the WWII era (not just the war but everything else about the period) is actually magnificently detailed here.  I already know it all because
a) I'm an historian, and even though WWII isn't my area of expertise, I've certainly taken a look at it.
b) I have a personal stake in the period, what with my personal family history being intimately intertwined with it, my family having lost their standing and fortune, lost two sets of great-grandparents in German Concentration Camps, having been forced to flee a homeland occupied first by Nazi Germany and then by a long and brutal Soviet Russian regime, and with at least three generations of my family having been seriously fucked-up by the scars of living through the war in Europe.
c) I had only just recently engaged in a very thorough researching of this very historical period in preparation for my Golden Age ICONS campaign.

So unless you've got that same background, you're almost invariably going to find the "historical recreation" segment of these books far more useful than I did.  And the detail is truly great: the Investigator's guide has material on British meal programs during the war, notes on the evolution of male and female fashion in the UK, US, and Germany during the course of the war, details on rationing, music, film, press censorship, etc.  There are decent timelines from the '30s to the late '40s for the UK, France, and US.  You also have very detailed information on the structure and nature of the armed services and Intelligence services for the UK, US, Germany, and the French resistance (not so for the Polish resistance, who were larger and more significant than the French resistance, in spite of the latter being better-known by having a more positive post-war PR machine - but then, the book focuses pretty exclusively on the western front).  Character creation guidelines (for CoC or SW alike) are very much framed around trying to make a tight historical context of service in the war effort (albeit with a wide variety of options).

So in other words, the central appeal of the books as written is going to be for those particular kinds of CoC-fans, today possibly in the majority, who really get off on a careful and detailed "reconstruction" (in play) of the historical era.  I have been told that this had always been the dominant style of CoC-play in most of Europe, and in North America it increasingly became so as repeated products made ever-increasing attempts to show off just how historically detailed they could become.  There's definitely nothing wrong with this; although if what you're looking for is something a little less serious and a bit more drawn to the action-adventure side of things you may find some of the information to be unnecessary to your needs.

The Investigator's Guide is meant for the players, of course, and mainly focuses on introducing players to the time period (with all the aforementioned details), and creating characters.  Character creation covers both systems, and as CoC and Savage Worlds are two very different games, this means that if you don't plan to run both at some point or another, at least some portions of the book will be useless to you.

The CoC material for character creation is detailed and well-organized.  You have procedures for generating characters from the U.S., from the British Commonwealth, or displaced exiles from one of the occupied nations of Europe.  There are random tables provided if you want to randomly choose your Commonwealth or Exile origin.  Likewise, there are random tables to determine your occupation, with separate tables for Civilian, Covert Ops, or Military. There are also amusing tables for randomly determining your connection to the Mythos. Each occupation has a description, plus information on earnings and connections, as well as a list of specializations. 

To generate a military character, there are some slightly different procedures.  Players decide whether to have their character enlist or be drafted (in the latter case, the branch of service is determined randomly).  Characters must then make a roll against their CON attribute to see whether they passed the physical tests of basic training. In some cases, they may be rejected outright (in which case they must instead choose a civilian occupation), or they may be relegated to rear-echelon roles, or they may be accepted, potentially with a bonus to their CON from the training regime.  Characters that pass basic training receive bonuses to a list of skills related to their branch of service. If a character meets certain prerequisites he may be eligible to receive NCO or Officer rank, which provides additional bonuses. There are optional rules allowing for a character to rise up the ranks by making a series of checks against a promotion table (with the risk that he may begin the game having already been wounded (and taken attribute damage) in the line of duty).

Civilian characters can also opt to attempt to enlist or be drafted, and will also gain benefits from doing so, although they will begin the game at their initial rank rather than play through the pre-game process of potential promotions.
There are rules too for elite occupations (e.g., the Scots Guards, the Commandos, Red Devils, Phantom, and the famous Devil's Brigade; though for some reason the latter here is only referred to by its formal name, the First Special Service Force, even though all the others are referred to by their popular monikers).

The Investigators' book also has new skills and updated skills, which are detailed in their own chapter.

Chapter 7 is a 20-page chapter with rules for character creation, along similar lines, but for the Savage Worlds system. 

Finally, there's a 15 page chapter of new equipment, for both systems, with important stats and tables for WW-era weapons.

That's the Investigator's Guide.  Again, quite useful as a sourcebook on WWII in general, and specifically if you want to make a standard CoC campaign but set it in WWII. I'll note that there is almost NOTHING here (aside from the aforementioned tables in the CoC character creation process) that is specifically mythos-related, or even supernatural at all.  If you had this book alone, it would make a very decent WWII-era BRP or SW book for historical and non-mythos play.  To get into the mythos part of things, you really need the Keeper's Guide.

(Continued tomorrow with part 2: the Keeper's Guide)


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